On Mayown… pretending he’s beside me…
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Ah oui… Les Misérables… Victor Hugo’s classic French novel, of which there have been precisely 24601 different adaptations (including the little-known 1985 musical), was first published in 1862 and follows the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his adopted daughter Cosette around the time of the 1832 Rebellion in Paris. By a strange not-at-all made-up coincidence, it is around this time that mayonnaise was gaining popularity in France as a condiment – after all, the once barricaded cafés needed something to lure customers back to their many empty chairs and empty tables.
In the song On My Own, lonely-yet-spunky waif Eponine, fantasises about strong-yet-sensitive Marius ditching not-lonely-or-spunky former-waif Cosette in her favour before realising it’s all a wet pavement dream and popping off to the nearest boulangerie for a baguette and some of that strange white stuff that Monsieur Hellman had so memorably given her a taste of (in a song cut from the original 1980 French production). Or something.
Originally an aspic-based sauce (FACT!), mayonnaise is an emulsion of oil, egg yolk and mustard and, when properly made, bears little resemblance to the white wobbly stuff in jars. Recipes will usually tell you use a blender or electric whisk to make life easier but, unless you are making industrial quantities, that always seems to spray the emulsion around too much (and there’s all that washing up…). I’ve adapted the approach I take when making salad dressing, which is to start off making quite a thick emulsion on oil and mustard first before adding the vinegar and I have often wondered if mayonnaise could be tackled in the same way. And it worked! You will need a screw-top jar and… that’s it: equipment and storage all rolled into one!
Add some Dijon mustard to a the jar and, with a teaspoon, thoroughly blend in 10ml of oil. Once incorporated, repeat with another 10ml of oil and then once again and finally with a teaspoon of vinegar. By this point, you should already have a thick creamy emulsion to which you can now mix in the egg yolk.
Add 30ml of the oil, screw the lid on and shake vigorously. After a few seconds, the sloshing noise will change and you will know that the oil has been incorporated. Repeat the process with a final 30ml of the oil. You should have a jar full of nice thick glossy mayonnaise. Scrape down the sides and lid of the jar and adjust the seasoning (you may want to add more mustard or vinegar). Give a final shake – et voila! The mayonnaise will stiffen up a little when chilled and should be eaten within a week. Pretending someone is beside you is purely optional.
Note: this recipe contains raw egg, so make sure you use a fresh egg and are comfortable with the associated risks!